Seems that the issue of paying third-party vendors a fee to file documents in state courts has raised its head again – this time in Georgia. We covered this issue back in April when a claim was made against a Texas court that these types of fees were RICO violations. According to a Fulton County Daily report (paid service) and a Courthouse New Service report, a plaintiff was ‘locked out’ of the Lexis File and Serve service because the plaintiff’s counsel had allegedly not paid the service’s fees. The fees run from $7 to $12 per document and are paid directly to Lexis, and not the courts. Also according to the complaint, the Fulton County court apparently would only accept the electronic filing in this class-action case, and no paper documents would be accepted (supposedly getting around the $7 and $12 Lexis fees.)
In one of those arguments that fits the saying of “it may be true, but do you really want to use that as your defense?” Lexis’s attorney, William K. Whitner, said “The Georgia Supreme Court has repeatedly held that there is no constitutional right to access to the courts.”
This was swiftly met with a response from DeKalb Superior Court Judge Robert J. Castellani asking Whitner, “Did you just say there’s no right of access to the courts?”
Without skipping a beat, Whitner replied “No constitutional right… That’s the what the case law says; I’m not saying it’s right or wrong.”
Judge Castellani gave some sage advice to Whitner when he followed up with “I hope that’s not what your case rests on.”
There are a lot of issues that surround the idea that courts outsource their electronic filing. One of the things that seems to pop up in these cases is the fact that the plaintiffs and defendants are paying court fees directly to third party private vendors, and then the vendors are sending those fees on to the courts (after taking their cut.) I know that this is “logistically” a good way of doing things, but it does raise issues of people being excluded from the public court system because of money owed to a private company. Seems like it would be smarter for the courts to set their electronic fees in a way that builds the cost into the court fee, and not as a separate fee, then the court would pay the vendor a fee. That way, at least logistically, citizens would be failing to pay the court, not a private party. That would make the access to courts issue something that would then throw out the issue of private companies having a role in excluding citizens from the courts.